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No immunity for MPs from prosecution: Supreme Court

Says graft by members erodes probity in public life

No immunity for MPs from prosecution: Supreme Court


Tribune News Service

Satya Prakash

New Delhi, March 4

Twenty-six years after a five-judge Constitution Bench ruled that lawmakers were immune to prosecution for taking bribes to vote or to make speeches in the House, a seven-judge Constitution Bench on Monday overruled the controversial verdict, saying “corruption and bribery by members of the legislatures erode probity in public life.”

Editorial: Stripped of immunity

After analysing the majority and minority decision of the 1998 PV Narasimha Rao judgment, a seven-judge Constitution Bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud unanimously overruled the majority verdict in the case that emanated from the JMM MPs’ bribery case.

Ironically, the 1998 verdict in the Narasimha Rao case that protected former Jharkhand CM Shibu Soren from prosecution in the JMM MPs’ bribery case, couldn’t come to the rescue of his MLA daughter-in-law Sita Soren as a seven-judge Constitution Bench overturned it. “We disagree with and overrule the judgment of the majority on this aspect… The judgment of the majority in the PV Narasimha Rao case, which grants immunity from prosecution to a member of the legislature who has allegedly engaged in bribery for casting a vote or speaking, has wide ramifications on public interest, probity in public life and parliamentary democracy. There is a grave danger of this court allowing an error to be perpetuated if the decision were not reconsidered,” the Bench said.

Overrules 1998 verdict in JMM case

After analysing the majority and minority decision of the 1998 PV Narasimha Rao judgment, seven-judge Constitution Bench unanimously overrules the majority verdict in the case that emanated from the JMM MPs’ bribery case

PM Narendra Modi welcomed the Supreme Court’s verdict ending immunity from prosecution for bribe-taking lawmakers. “Swagatam! A great judgment by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, which will ensure clean politics and deepen people’s faith in the system,” the PM posted on social networking site X.

The Bench also made it clear that elections of the President, Vice-President and Rajya Sabha members would also be covered under parliamentary privileges as “they are an integral part of the powers and responsibilities of elected members of Parliament and state Legislative Assemblies.”

Will ensure clean politics: PM modi

Swagatam! A great judgment by the Supreme Court which will ensure clean politics and deepen people’s faith in the system. —Narendra Modi, PM

Salutary judgment, says Congress

It is a salutary, desirable, welcome verdict. It is something which sets right the law and it should have been done earlier. —Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Congress

A five-judge Bench led by the CJI had on September 20, 2023, referred the issue to a seven-judge Constitution Bench to reconsider the correctness of the 1998 judgment in connection with JMM legislator Sita Soren’s plea claiming protection under the top court’s ruling in the Narasimha Rao case after being accused of taking a bribe during a Rajya Sabha election.

Sita Soren would be liable to be prosecuted for taking bribes to vote for a candidate in the Rajya Sabha election in 2014, it said.

“An individual member of the legislature cannot assert a claim of privilege to seek immunity under Articles 105 and 194 from prosecution on a charge of bribery in connection with a vote or speech in the legislature. Such a claim to immunity fails to fulfil the twofold test that the claim is tethered to the collective functioning of the House and that it is necessary to the discharge of the essential duties of a legislator,” it said.

“Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution seek to sustain an environment in which debate and deliberation can take place within the legislature. This purpose is destroyed when a member is induced to vote or speak in a certain manner because of an act of bribery,” the Bench said.

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